RAVENS PASSING GAME: Joe Flacco did what it took to win last week’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he didn’t entirely erase concerns about the health of his back. He was out of rhythm on his few longer throws and struggled to get his wide receivers involved. Take away Jeremy Maclin’s 48-yard touchdown catch-and-run and the team’s three top receivers --- Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman — had three receptions for 21 yards. Expect the Ravens to take a few more shots downfield against Cleveland.
BROWNS PASSING GAME: Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer performed about as well as the Browns could have hoped against the Pittsburgh Steelers, throwing for 222 yards and a touchdown and running for a score. He can make all the throws, and his legs add a dimension, but the Browns want him to make quicker decisions and give what should be a good offensive line a chance. Second-year wide receiver Corey Coleman is coming on. Wideout Kenny Britt had a brutal debut with the team last week.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: After a summer of prioritizing the run game, the Ravens looked the part last week in rushing for 157 yards. Their 42 carries were their most in a game since late in the 2012 season. They averaged a modest 3.7 yards a carry, but the commitment to the ground game wore down the Bengals. Danny Woodhead’s absence puts even more of an onus on Terrance West and Buck Allen going forward. The Ravens will need to control Danny Shelton inside to have a successful day on the ground.
BROWNS RUNNING GAME: Fourth-year back Isaiah Crowell had a difficult opener, gaining just 33 yards on 17 carries. With Duke Johnson being used more as a slot receiver, Crowell is the undisputed starter. In six career games against the Ravens, Crowell has averaged 45.5 rushing yards per game and has three total touchdowns. Johnson could also get a few carries, but it appears that Matthew Dayes, a rookie seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State, is second in line for rushes.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: The Bengals popped a few nice runs early, but the Ravens settled in and didn’t allow much on the ground the rest of the way. Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Brent Urban form an extremely big and athletic front that figures to be tough to run against all year. The Ravens are still unsettled at weak-side linebacker, where Kamalei Correa, Patrick Onwuasor and Bam Bradley could all get an opportunity to play Sunday. The Ravens prepared for DeShone Kizer’s running ability, too.
BROWNS RUSH DEFENSE: This unit got off to a great start, limiting Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell to 32 yards on 10 carries. The Browns surrendered just 35 rushing yards in Week 1, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the lowest total in the league. Joe Schobert, a 2016 fourth-round pick, has moved to the starting middle linebacker spot, and he led the team with nine tackles last week. Strong-side linebacker Jamie Collins might be the Browns’ best all-around defensive player.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens showed Andy Dalton a bunch of different looks last week, and they’ll almost certainly have wrinkles for a rookie quarterback in his first NFL road start. After compiling five sacks last week, the Ravens face a quarterback who was sacked seven times in the opener. Terrell Suggs has a tough matchup against Joe Thomas, one of the best tackles in the league. Rookie first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey will likely have an expanded role against the Browns after a strong debut.
BROWNS PASS DEFENSE: Top overall draft pick Myles Garrett is sidelined with an ankle injury, preventing an enticing matchup with Ravens 2016 first-round pick Ronnie Stanley. Carl Nassib started in Garrett’s place last week and had a sack. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves to play a physical and attacking style, and he’ll likely try to get after Flacco. Cleveland has a nice mix in the secondary with veteran corners Jamar Taylor and Jason McCourty and young safeties Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Kindred.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: As expected, Chris Moore and Michael Campanaro handled the return duties. While Moore didn’t get any kick-return opportunities in the opener, Campanaro gained 23 yards on three punt returns. The coverage teams, which feature several rookies, played well. Kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch were typically solid. The Ravens have made a few game-altering plays on special teams against the Browns in recent meetings.
BROWNS SPECIAL TEAMS: The Steelers blocked a Browns punt that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Cleveland’s punt coverage was spotty. However, Peppers, a rookie out of Michigan, certainly brings some excitement on returns. The Ravens know how dangerous he can be in the open field. Rookie seventh-round pick Zane Gonzalez, the 2016 Lou Groza Award winner, won the place-kicking job over Cody Parkey this summer and made his only field-goal attempt last week.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: Under John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 16-2 against the Browns. The crowd should be a big factor this week after the Ravens’ impressive performance in the road opener. With Harbaugh at the helm since 2008, the Ravens are 54-18 at M&T Bank Stadium in the regular season, the third-best home mark in the league during that span. That includes a 14-2 record in September. The Ravens need to cut down on penalties after committing 11 for 85 yards last week.
BROWNS INTANGIBLES: Ravens fans have probably heard this before, but the Browns at least appear to be headed in the right direction. Cleveland has some young talent on both sides of the ball, and the progress Kizer has already made under head coach Hue Jackson has provided some excitement. The Browns, though, are just 1-15 on the road over the past two seasons. They also enter Sunday’s game with a pretty banged-up offensive front.
PREDICTION: The Ravens certainly didn’t give any indication they were overlooking the Browns this week, but the sense of confidence from outside the building and around town is palpable. The Ravens have earned that with their recent dominance over the Browns and the way they played last week. But I don’t expect this will be an easy game by any stretch. Despite a narrow loss, the Browns outplayed the Steelers for much of the opener. However, doing it on the road and against a dialed-in defense is a different story. The Ravens should force a couple of turnovers and put a few drives together to improve to 2-0.